Dear Mrs. Riches:
My girlfriend is hinting around about our anniversary and I know she'd like something very big as a gift. But I'm trying hard to get out of credit card debt to the tune of $8,000 and a gift the size she's hinting at would cost a bundle. How do I get out of this without seeming cheap or disappointing her? --Empty Pockets
Dear Empty Pockets:
Which does your girlfriend love more -- you or your plastic? If the answer is you, then she'll quickly swallow her disappointment and applaud your steps to become debt-free. If the answer is your borrowing power, you'll be better off cutting up your cards and cutting off her affections. Her love of high-priced gifts is sure to grow as fast as your balance, leaving you with the raw end of the credit card statement.
But before you usher her out of your financial life, a good first step is to have an honest conversation about your goals and how you are feeling about her "hints." Perhaps she is unaware of the pressure she's placed on you to choose between romance and solvency. And besides, romance doesn't have to come with a high price tag; a dozen candles, mood music, and the right words can work their own special magic.
If she's still more interested in your Mastercard, you might try companionship of the more frugal and mutually respectful sort. Check out The Motley Fool's Living Below Your Means discussion board where you can get all the advice, support, and encouragement you need to get out of debt.
Dear Mrs. Riches:
My wife and I have only maintained joint accounts throughout our marriage -- at least I thought we had. I recently discovered she has a separate savings account she's been funding on the side -- not with a lot of money, mind you, but enough to pay for a very nice vacation. When I asked her about it, she laughed and called it her "mad money," something she'd tucked away for a rainy day. She saw it as no big deal; I feel hurt and somewhat betrayed, wondering what else she is keeping from me. Which of us is right? -- Mad at the Mrs.
Dear Mad at the Mrs.:
Only fools (not Fools) rush in to decide right versus wrong between spouses with so little information to go on! It certainly sounds like your wife was insensitive to your feelings, but I can think of several situations in which she might feel justifiable in her desire to have money set aside. What we are missing in this story is the "why" behind her actions. Does she feel you are too controlling with your "joint" money? Do the two of you have any history of volatility in your relationship that might make her anxious to retain some money of her own? To what depths did you have to stoop to uncover the separate account?
If you can answer each of these questions with a benign response, then you need to try again to discuss your feelings with her, as well as listen to her explanation. Perhaps she really sees this as no big deal and doesn't understand that it is making you question the larger issue of her honesty.
If in-person communication dissolves into arguments, consider writing her a letter about your feelings and your concerns about the future. And if, indeed, this is just one of the issues lurking beneath the surface of your marriage, the two of you may want to see a marriage counselor to improve the long-term health of your relationship. Once the dust has cleared, The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples and Cash could help the two of you to establish new (and less contentious) ways of communicating about your finances.
Have a question for Mrs. Riches? Email her at email@example.com for the chance to get your personal money questions answered.
For more on how to handle finances and a relationship:
Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a psychotherapist in private practice who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp (TMF Bro), editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter.